Target’s Self-Checkout System Frustrates Workers and Customers

By Perla Tolentino
 A wide-angle view of the self-checkout station, showing that no team members were helping customers at the moment. Photo by Perla Tolentino.

A wide-angle view of the self-checkout station, showing that no team members were helping customers at the moment. Photo by Perla Tolentino.

The Marble Hill Target on 225th street in the Bronx recently introduced new self-checkout registers to improve customers’ shopping experience, but the changeover has disappointed many workers and local shoppers. Their experiences suggest that customers and staff may end up paying a steep price for the move.

Rhadames de la Cruz, a former Target employee, suggested that these innovative point of sale machines are meant to benefit customers by increasing efficiency. Three Target team members at the store who did not want to be named agreed that the new registers have shortened lines at the registers. 

Other employees, however, argue that the self-checkout system brings the threat of layoffs. One team member, Dulce, who asked not to give her last name, explained “They hired around 100 seasonal employees last year. They were all let go after they started the self-service, especially in the night shift there are not so many employees sometimes.” Dulce told the Meridian that most companies hire seasonal employees to avoid paying taxes and the expense of annual wage increases. She thinks the self-checkout registers may bring higher sales, but added, “I don’t think they will hire new employees any soon.” 

Research supports her view. According to a study cited in a Guardian article from Aug. 2016, 7.5m retail jobs in the US “are at ‘high risk of computerization,” with the 3.5m cashiers likely to be particularly hard hit.” The article also quoted a Target employee in Wisconsin, Caleb Kulick, who summarized the impact of the new self-checkout system: “Suddenly, a job which used to require four employees now only requires one.”

Target Department Store at 225th in the Bronx. At 7:05PM the lights of almost all Self-Checkout registers appear to be lit indicating the register is open. Behind them the lights of only 4 out of 29 available manual registers that require team members are lit. Photo by Perla Tolentino.

Many regular customers at the 225th location also think the registers have worsened, not improved, their shopping experience. Scarlett Nuñez, who was shopping in her work uniform, said she shops in Target almost every day. “The self-checkout registers are constantly damaged or not working, I’d rather just go to the cashiers.” Another customer who also shops regularly at the store agreed. 

Rosy Morel, a 25-year-old Lehman College graduate, also expressed her frustration with the new machines. “Sometimes they don’t work, and when they do, they still require a cashier, like when I’m buying fruits and vegetables, they have to come and put a code,” she said. Rosy noticed that the new registers were taking over the jobs of Target associates.

Bronx residents are dissatisfied with the self-checkout registers because they feel that the registers still require assistance from target associates — which is now often slower to arrive. Jasmille Peralta, a Bronx resident who shops at both 225th and the 161st street locations said that the wait is the same when you are using the self-checkout. “Some functions of the self-checkout require a team member, but they are never around so I have to wait for a long time for one of them to come. One time, I waited for almost an hour,” she said. 

Lesia Willis, Vice President of the Career Services Department & Alumni Affairs of ASA College in Manhattan, is also frustrated. She said the system “is just not as efficient, you still need a team member for some of the transactions made.” Willis said she prefers the old cashier registers since she uses coupons and these usually have to be supervised by team members.

An additional downside of the automated system is an apparent increase in theft. Madeline Espinosa, a Bronx resident and regular shopper at the 225th location pointed out that self-checkout machines often see a rise in shoplifting. Espinosa was employed in the Target store in Temple, PA in 2013 where the self-checkout registers were launched first. She said the loss prevention team at the time in her PA store noticed that many of the items missing weren’t stolen on the floor, but at the self-checkout lanes. “At that store we had secret shoppers and two security guards at all time and very rarely they found people shop lifting, but they were short when inventory was done. So they realized that the gap had increased since they added the self-checkout registers,” she said.

A taxi driver who operates outside of the 225th Target store, Roger Oseda better known as “Tito” also believes that the new system has driven up theft. He pointed to circumstantial evidence of this. “There is always someone stealing something in there. They always have to call the police.” His observations are confirmed by data. According to Atlantic Magazine, a 2015 study of one million self-checkout transactions in the UK showed that almost $850,000 worth of items “left the store without being scanned and paid for.”

Ultimately, Target’s new investment may lead them to lose more than was projected.  According to an April article in Forbes, Target’s new implementation has not been profitable, causing a decrease in their earnings growth in the last year.